降级、关禁闭、撤职…… 英美严惩军中违反疫情禁令行为(5)

"But perhaps it might be possible to get a Bill passed to disfranchise the Irish forty-shilling freeholdersa class of voters who, as they had been created for acknowledged purposes of corruption in the Irish Parliament, would have nobody to stand up for them in high places, now that they refused to play their patrons' game. This was quite as improbable an issue as the other. The disfranchisement of forty-shilling freeholders had, indeed, been talked of in former years; but, if effected at all, it was to be in connection with a measure of Catholic Emancipation. To propose it now for the avowed purpose of rendering Catholic Emancipation impossible would be to insure the rejection of the Bill. That plan, therefore, fell at once to the ground; and there remained but two others. Early in the following year the mayor and the commanding officer, Colonel Brereton, were brought to trial for neglect of duty. The mayor was acquitted, as not having been adequately supported by the military; but Colonel Brereton's humanity led to the most painful consequences. His trial began on the 9th of January following, and lasted four days, during which, as the proofs against him accumulated, he was overwhelmed with agony of mind. On the night of the 12th he did not visit, as was his custom, the chamber of his two motherless daughters. He was heard walking for hours about his room during that night, and in the morning, when the court assembled, it was announced that the prisoner had shot himself through the heart.

As in the whole history of the world, perhaps, so great a calamity as the Irish famine never called for sympathy and relief, so never was a more generous response elicited by any appeal to humanity. The Government and the Legislature did all that was possible with the means at their disposal, and the machinery that already existed, or could be hastily constructed, to meet the overwhelming emergency. The newly established Poor Law system, though useful as far as it went, was quite inadequate to meet such great distress. It had been passed while the country was comparatively prosperous, and contained no provision for such a social disorganisation as this famine. By the Acts of 1 and 2 Victoria, c. 56, no outdoor relief whatever could be given in any circumstances. The size of the unions was also a great impediment to the working of the Poor Law. They were three times the extent of the corresponding divisions in England. In Munster and[544] Connaught, where there was the greatest amount of destitution and the least amount of local agency available for its relief, the unions were much larger than in the more favoured provinces of Ulster and Leinster. The union of Ballina comprised a region of upwards of half a million acres, and within its desert tracts the famine assumed its most appalling form, the workhouse being more than forty miles distant from some of the sufferers. As a measure of precaution, the Government had secretly imported and stored a large quantity of Indian corn, as a cheap substitute for the potato, which would have served the purpose much better had the people been instructed in the best modes of cooking it. It was placed in commissariat dep?ts along the western coast of the island, where the people were not likely to be supplied on reasonable terms through the ordinary channels of trade. The public works consisted principally of roads, on which the people were employed as a sort of supplement to the Poor Law. Half the cost was a free grant from the Treasury, and the other half was charged upon the barony in which the works were undertaken. The expense incurred under the Labour Rate Act, 9 and 10 Victoria, c. 107," amounted to 4,766,789. It was almost universally admitted, when the pressure was over, that the system of public works adopted was a great mistake; and it seems wonderful that such grievous blunders could have been made with so many able statesmen and political economists at the head of affairs and in the service of the Government. The public works undertaken consisted in the breaking up of good roads to level hills and fill hollows, and the opening of new roads in places where they were not requiredwork which the people felt to be useless, and which they performed only under strong compulsion, being obliged to walk to them in all weathers for miles, in order to earn the price of a breakfast of Indian meal. Had the labour thus comparatively wasted been devoted to the draining, subsoiling, and fencing of the farms, connected with a comprehensive system of arterial drainage, immense and lasting benefit to the country would have been the result, especially as works so well calculated to ameliorate the soil and guard against the moisture of the climate might have been connected with a system of instruction in agricultural matters of which the peasantry stood so much in need, and to the removal of the gross ignorance which had so largely contributed to bring about the famine. As it was, enormous sums were wasted. Much needless hardship was inflicted on the starving people in compelling them to work in frost and rain when they were scarcely able to walk, and, after all the vast outlay, very few traces of it remained in permanent improvements on the face of the country. The system of Government relief works failed chiefly through the same difficulty which impedes every mode of relief, whether public or privatenamely, the want of machinery to work it. It was impossible suddenly to procure an efficient staff of officers for an undertaking of such enormous magnitudethe employment of a whole people. The overseers were necessarily selected in haste; many of them were corrupt, and encouraged the misconduct of the labourers. In many cases the relief committees, unable to prevent maladministration, yielded to the torrent of corruption, and individual members only sought to benefit their own dependents. The people everywhere flocked to the public works; labourers, cottiers, artisans, fishermen, farmers, men, women, and childrenall, whether destitute or not, sought for a share of the public money. In such a crowd it was almost impossible to discriminate properly. They congregated in masses on the roads, idling under the name of work, the really destitute often unheeded and unrelieved because they had no friend to recommend them. All the ordinary employments were neglected; there was no fishing, no gathering of seaweed, no collecting of manure. The men who had employment feared to lose it by absenting themselves for any other object; those unemployed spent their time in seeking to obtain it. The whole industry of the country seemed to be engaged in road-making. It became absolutely necessary to put an end to it, or the cultivation of the land would be neglected. Works undertaken on the spur of the momentnot because they were needful, but merely to employ the peoplewere in many cases ill-chosen, and the execution equally defective. The workers, desirous to protect their employment, were only anxious to give as little labour as possible, in which their overlookers or gangers in many cases heartily agreed. The favouritism, the intimidation, the wholesale jobbing practised in many cases were shockingly demoralising. The problem was to support 2,000,000 or 3,000,000 of destitute persons, and this was in a great measure effected, though at an enormous cost to the empire.

Lord Wellington had been duly informed of the progress of these man?uvres, and they had given him great anxiety; nor were these the only causes of anxiety which affected him. The British Ministry were so much absorbed with the business of supporting the Allies in their triumphant march after Buonaparte, that they seemed to think the necessity of Lord Wellington's exertions at an end. At the close of 1813 they recalled Sir Thomas Graham and some of his best battalions to send them into Holland. They appeared to contemplate still further reductions of the Peninsular army, and Lord Wellington was obliged to address them in very plain terms to impress them with the vital necessity of maintaining the force in this quarter unweakened. He reminded them that thirty thousand British troops had kept two hundred thousand of Buonaparte's best troops engaged in Spain for five years; that without this assistance Spain and Portugal would have long ago been completely thrown under the feet of the invader, and the Allies of the North would have had to contend against the undivided armies and exertions of Napoleon; that to render his own army inefficient would be at once to release one hundred thousand veterans such as the Allied armies had not had to deal with. This had the proper effect; and as soon as Wellington had obtained the necessary supplies, he resumed his operations to drive Soult from under the walls of Bayonne.

"Buckingham Palace,

Mr. Lamb had retired with Mr. Huskisson, sending in his resignation to the Duke of Wellington, and was succeeded as Chief Secretary by Lord Francis Gower, afterwards Lord Ellesmere. Among the offices vacated in consequence of the recent schism in the Government, was that of President of the Board of Trade, which was accepted by Mr. Vesey Fitzgerald, one of the members for the county Clare. He was consequently obliged to offer himself for re-election to his constituents, and this led to the memorable contest which decided the question of Catholic Emancipation. LORD COLLINGWOOD.

The great difficulties of the Government at this time were the settlement of the questions with Spain of the right to cut logwood in the bay of Campeachy, and the retention of Gibraltar. The Spaniards had frequently resisted the cutting of logwood in the Bay of Campeachy by the English; and in 1717 the Marquis of Monteleone had presented a memorial against it; but the Board of Trade contended that the practice was of old standing, and amounted to a right. This representation was now laid before the House of Commons, and was backed by many petitions from the merchants of London and other places, complaining of the interruptions to their trade to the South American and West Indian colonies, which had been carried on by connivance rather than by actual permission of Spain. There was a great fermentation in the public mind on these subjects, and the Minister was accused of tamely submitting to national injuries. The nation seemed ready to rush into a war with Spain, and perhaps all the more so that the king, in his opening speech, had observed that "an actual war was preferable to such a doubtful peace, but that the exchange was very easy to be made at any time."